Review

Telegraph Days

by Larry McMurtry

Nellie and Jackson Courtright are orphaned by their father's
suicide on their hardscrabble ranch in the heart of No Man's Land
in what will one day become Oklahoma. They cut him down from the
barn rafters, bury him on the dusty plain and set off for the
nearest town, Rita Blanca. With little to offer but several
taverns, a magnificent jailhouse and a telegraph office, Rita
Blanca becomes Nellie and Jackson's new home where they seek
employment and housing on the muddy single street that leads
through town.

Nellie, for all her youth, has plenty of brass and a fortuitous
skill earned before her family headed west --- she can operate a
telegraph key. As luck would have it, Rita Blanca just lost their
last telegrapher, so despite misgivings of just about everybody,
she gets the job. Jackson, too young and inexperienced to impress a
future employer, is hired as a deputy sheriff. His job description
is to sweep the cells and tend the horses, but he is catapulted
into fame when a vicious gang rides into town.  The sheriff is
drunk, and Jackson, in an improbable stroke of luck, manages to
kill all six marauders with eight shots, and a gun-fighting legend
is born. Nellie writes a dime novel of the event that gains her
fame and some fortune throughout her life.

Thus begins a fantastical journey with Nellie and Jackson as they
move through the last of the western frontier, meeting the great
gunslingers of all time. Nellie is generous with her affections,
but not her love. Her heart belongs to Buffalo Bill Cody, but her
romantic encounters with other legends and near legends propel her
into haylofts and mesquite bosques from Oklahoma to Tombstone to
Hollywood. She meets Wild Bill Hickok, the Earp brothers and Billy
the Kid, and Buffalo Bill's wife Lulu becomes a friend and
confidant. Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate befriend Nellie in
Tombstone, where she and Jackson arrive minutes before the Gunfight
at the OK Corral breaks out.

TELEGRAPH DAYS is an odyssey through the last frontier resembling
Forest Gump's encounters with historical events. Nellie, however,
is bright, sassy and courageous --- with nary a box of chocolates
to be found. This is McMurtry's bow to the great gunfighters, as
LONESOME DOVE honored the cattle drives of the 1870s. McMurtry fans
will welcome his 38th novel to their collection.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 27, 2011

Telegraph Days
by Larry McMurtry

  • Publication Date: June 17, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Western
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743250931
  • ISBN-13: 9780743250931